Florida faces political storm over draft building code
May 31, 1999
MIAMI (CNN) -- Seven years after Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida and spurred a strict building code, some residents are infuriated over a proposal for a statewide code they say would water down the regional standards.
In 1992, Andrew destroyed 53,000 houses, caused about $25 billion in damage and required $156 million in federal emergency assistance.
The disaster also uncovered years of shoddy construction practices, revealing support columns filled with newspaper instead of concrete, particle board as flimsy as cardboard and roof beams that were improperly secured.
From the rubble emerged the South Florida Building Code, which has become a model for coastal construction guidelines elsewhere in the country, the Caribbean and even Australia, according to South Florida officials and homeowners.
Now, as Florida heads into this summer's hurricane season, the state is considering new construction regulations backed by builders that could usurp the strict South Florida provisions. Critics contend the proposed changes are watered down and dangerous.
Irate citizens expressed their concerns at a recent meeting of the Florida Building Commission, the agency appointed to come up with the new statewide code.
"I'm really scared about this new policy that they're trying to force through the government," one person said.
Commissioner Steve Pfeiffer admitted the new requirements for wind and debris impact resistance would be weakened.
"There's no question that first draft of the code has less strict standards," he said.
The proposed regulations also would no longer require storm shutters, and would reduce from eight to three the number of inspections during construction -- already derided by local residents as "drive-bys."
Builders contend that having to adhere to too many different building codes drives up their costs. There are about 450 codes across the state.
But some local officials claim builders just want to revert to cheap construction practices. They and South Florida residents wonder if those supporting the changes remember the lesson of Andrew.
The state commission, which reconvenes in July in Orlando, has tried to calm the waters, insisting the state legislature will make the final decision on the code provisions next year.
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